How to Grow and Harvest Grains in Your Backyard

Fruits, herbs, and vegetables get all the attention among gardeners.

Backyard poultry and goats provide eggs and dairy (and perhaps meat) for some, but what about the staple foods? Wheat, oats, millet, and other grains are actually much easier to grow than most fruits and vegetables, yet we tend to leave those foods to large farms and buy our flour and cornmeal at the grocery store. There is a bit of specialized knowledge needed to grow grains, but there are a couple myths that have turned people off from the idea.

Continue reading “How to Grow and Harvest Grains in Your Backyard”

Monsanto in Planet Forward Summit

Middlebury Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest

Michael Frank, the Vice President of Monsanto a company that uses a controversial Genetically Modified seed to grow their products, sat down at the Planet Forward Summit for an interview with founder and host of the conference Frank Sesno. The two went back and forth while many in the crowd felt that some of the important questions remained unanswered.

Responding to a questions regarding the “super weed,” a weed that would become resistant to pesticides, Michael Frank felt some pushback from a student in the crowd. The student felt that his question had been dodged by Frank and he sought an answer. Frank responded by saying that he “cannot answer all the questions” due to a time restraint.

Televisions at the summit showing the Planet Forward twitter feed were sent into a buzz throughout the segment. Many people across the country feel that genetically modifying the makeup of seed, as Monsanto does, is unethical. The company has been known to sue farmers for having traces of the Monsanto seed on their land, forcing many local farms to close down.

Interviewing at a conference where many of the people would be against you prior to speaking was a move to change the minds of the crowd. Michael Frank brought up points that it has not been through scientific testing that GMO crops have a negative impact on the health of consumers. Immediately a tweet panned onto the screen from someone in the crowd stating that this was due to the fact that Monsanto commissions their own testing means on the products.

Monsanto will continue to face pushback for the practices that the company uses, even if it is found to be safe. Many consumers feel that genetically modifying a product is unnatural and wrong, putting local farms in jeopardy. As we continue to expand our population, research into GMO and non-GMO options to feed our planet will continue.

Mexico offers to multinational companies the richest oil region

Chicontepec
Chicontepec
Chicontepec

The crown jewel of the oil in Mexico is called Chicontepec. This is a region of 3,800 square kilometers in the northern states of Veracruz and Puebla whose surface contains 40% of the country’s hydrocarbon reserves. After the approval of the energy reform, which allows for the first time in 76 years private investment in Mexico’s oil industry, this area is almost entirely available for the installation of private companies on its soil. Of the 169 energy fields that the Secretary of Energy of Mexico offered to new industry participants from next year, 90 are located there.

Chicontepec might be considered the treasure of 139,000 million barrels more headaches has given the Mexican government. A mine of oil discovered since 1926, in which work began 30 years later and never been able to obtain significant quantities of oil for its geological complexity. Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), as a former manager of the entire oil industry in the country, he found a huge reservoir where oil was in rocks with low porosity and permeability, in a soil with low pressure to remove many barrels of oil. Until 2012, the Mexican oil achieved there an unstable production of 74,000 barrels per day when star fields like Cantarell, Ku Maloob Zaap, in the Gulf of Mexico, have managed more than 800,000 barrels per day.

The administration of former President Felipe Calderon tried in its mandate (2006-2012) to give a boost to the region with a shy little energy reform allowed private companies involved in the industry as service providers. “Chicontepec is a successful project that is giving to the future viability of the oil industry in Mexico,” said the former president on November 25, 2012, five days before leaving office. Those plans never crystallized. “They are very small reservoirs that require new technology, most probably fracking (hydraulic fracturing). The challenge and the technological risks are high and only a company with experience and knowledge of the subject and could risk involved”, says Dante San Pedro, energetic lawyer who participated in the drafting of the 2008 reform.

Pemex in 2013, made ​​available six major oil fields in the area and offered incentive contracts where extra per barrel crude obtain would get a fee of up to $ 6.5. The offer is only interested in three companies: Baker Hughes, Weatherford and Halliburton. The latter reduced its payment to a penny per barrel and three fields were deserted. Rumors that the president, Enrique Peña Nieto, soon would have the energy reform initiative pushed back several companies in the hope of getting better contract conditions in the future. Now it’s a business that can suit all of these companies. “For the technological challenges of Chicontepec think that energy reform could create better conditions for existing businesses migrate to new types of contracts”, says Miriam Grunstein, Academic Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE).

The complexity of the Chicontepec field is not a secret, in 2010 the National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH) produced a controversial report on the region in which he noted that not only the technical difficulties were a problem but also the high cost of compensation for the population there lives as well as the environmental risk to the region when intervention is needed is extremely aggressive. In the same report, the Commission harshly criticized Pemex not meet expectations: “Pemex decided to implement a drilling program in different parts of Chicontepec paleochannel, although they had limited knowledge of the characteristics and the dynamics of the deposits in the project. That investment decision lacked appropriate control mechanisms to correct implementation”, says the text.

Pemex’s mistake, according to the lawyer San Pedro, was the confidence that their former managers had in the future been able to reach operating Chicontepec. “The site was developed with those new technologies incorporating what would be making more profitable. The reality is that the numbers do not lie, do not let money Chicontepec. Pemex has been more of an expense than a utility”, he says. The undersecretary of Hydrocarbons, Lourdes Melgar, acknowledged in meetings with the international press that the work in this field “has not been successful.” Now the Mexican oil will stay in a small portion of the site waiting for a partnership with a company with the technical capacity to work there.

Put hopes that energy reform will be key to the launch of the Mexican economy (the government estimates growth of 1% of GDP by 2018 and investment of 50,000 million) is pending that administration of Peña Nieto design contracts with the legal and economic conditions for companies interested in Chicontepec raise your hand.

The Latin American community, follow this case very closely, as the site of the Vaca Muerta in Argentina.
The opening to large multinational companies for major oil fields exploitation puts governments in situations of temptation to bring new investments. On the other hand, the citizens, want to be cautious about the possible ecological impact.
People have to worry. In Argentina, some parts of contracts with Chevron are secret.
Mexico has the opportunity to show that you can do these public contracts by making them more transparent. But more importantly, for me, is that they are not as complex legally. The simplicity of contracts with the state, is one way to ensure transparency and compliance monitoring by citizen.

Illustration takenfrom: Reservoir Formation Damage Assessment in the Chicontepec siliciclastic oil-bearing reservoirs, Mexico Faculty of Environment

With the children NO!

Violence against children
Violence against children
Photography ~catalina f.~ On 500px

A report written by Unicef​​, which reached my ears by Telesur TV shows so alarmed situation of violence towards children.

The report is called “Hidden in Plain Sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children”. We left the links in both English and Spanish:

English (PDF)
Spanish (Español: Ocultos a plena luz: un análisis estadístico de la violencia contra los niños – PDF)

Children are the most vulnerable individuals in our society. His mental and physical strength is not comparable with that of an adult. And morally inacaptable any abuse of violence: beatings, humiliation, torture or sexual.
They are the future of our society, they are our hope for a better world. And instead of violence need education, love and care.

Some conclusions drawn from the report.

[su_list icon=”icon: warning” icon_color=”#d74e60″]

  • In 2012 alone, homicide took the lives of about 95,000 children and
    adolescents under the age of 20 – almost 1 in 5 of all homicide
    victims that year.
  • Around 6 in 10 children between the ages of 2 and 14 worldwide
    (almost a billion) are subjected to physical punishment by their
    caregivers on a regular basis.
  • Close to 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide
    report involvement in one or more physical fights in the past year.
  • Slightly more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15
    worldwide experience bullying on a regular basis.
  • About 1 in 3 adolescents aged 11 to 15 in Europe and North
    America admit to having bullied others at school at least once
    in the past couple of months
  • Almost one quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide
    (almost 70 million) report being victims of some form of physical
    violence since age 15.
  • Around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10)
    have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced
    sexual acts at some point in their lives. Boys are also at risk, although
    a global estimate is unavailable due to the lack of comparable data in
    most countries.
  • 1 in 3 adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide (84 million)
    have been the victims of any emotional, physical or sexual violence
    committed by their husbands or partners at some point in their lives.
  • About 3 in 10 adults worldwide believe that physical punishment
    is necessary to properly raise or educate children.
  • Close to half of all girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide (around
    126 million) think a husband is sometimes justified in hitting or
    beating his wife.

[/su_list]

Perhaps the most troubling thing to me is that most girls justify male violence. I worry about being a father of a beautiful girl, and that sexism is a culture that is part of the root of a cruel and dark society.

Let’s help to change. We care for our children … Please!

Somalia: soldiers rape women and girls in return for humanitarian aid

ives details about the abuse of women and girls in Somalia. (AFP)

So Human Rights Watch Report. They are members of the African Union. A report claims that abuse their victims, all internally displaced Somali conflict, when they come to the centers for medicine or water.

African Union soldiers deployed in Somalia will rape women and girls attending their camps to request humanitarian aid, according to research, released in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Most womenran who were abused were living in camps after fleeing famine and violence that is bleeding the country since 2011.

In a report released at a press conference in Nairobi, HRW urges the African Union (AU) to take action to address these abuses and ensure justice for victims.

The document, entitled “The power that these men have over us: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by the AU forces in Somalia,” reveals the rape of women and girls in two locations of AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) in the Somali capital since 2013.

The research is the testimony of 21 women and girls, some as young as 12, who described being raped or sexually exploited by soldiers from Uganda and Burundi of the AU force. A single case in which the victim is a girl, came to the military courts in Uganda, Kampala.

“Some Soldiers used the humanitarian assistance provided by the mission to force women and girls vulnerable to have sex,” says HRW.

“A number of women and girls interviewed for this report said they were initially approached by sex for money or raped while seeking medical care or water in the bases of AMISOM, particularly at the base of the contingent of Burundi”.

A Burundian soldier gave a girl 15 years u$s 10 after raping her. “First I start or run my hijab (veil) and then attacked me,” said the victim. The girl had gone to the base to find medicine for his mother who was ill.

All Somali women interviewed had come to the capital from communities in southern and central Somalia, famine areas or controlled by the terrorist Al Shabab who have fled the tens of thousands of people in recent years.

“A young girl went to the base to ask for a drug and, when taken to the room of a soldier, he realized the situation. At that time I wanted to run away, she was terrified, but I was hungry and could not do anything,” explained in HRW Africa researcher, Laetitia Bader.

Somalia suffers from a violent instability since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991.  AMISOM (composed of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sierra Leone) was deployed in 2007 to protect the institutions and the Somali Government and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Bitcoin and economic reality

Bitcoin

Alex Payne lays out the Bitcoin agenda:

Bitcoin has become synonymous with everything wrong with Silicon Valley: a marriage of dubious technology and questionable economics wrapped up in a crypto-libertarian political agenda that smacks of nerds-do-it-better paternalism. With its influx of finance mercenaries, the Bitcoin community is a grim illustration of greed running roughshod over meaningful progress.

A person’s sincere interest in Bitcoin is evidence that they are disconnected from the financial problems most people face while lacking a fundamental understanding of the role and function of central banking. The only thing “profound” about Bitcoin is its community’s near-total obliviousness to reality.

If Bitcoin’s strength comes from decentralization, why pour millions into a single company? Ah, because Coinbase provides an “accessible interface to the Bitcoin protocol”, we’re told. We must centralize to decentralize, you see; such is the perverse logic of capital co-opting power. In order for Bitcoin to grow a thriving ecosystem, it apparently needs a US-based, VC-backed company that has “worked closely with banks and regulators to ensure that the service is safe and compliant”.

And Coinbase certainly feels, uh, compliant. It took me over a week to use the service to turn US dollars into a fraction of a Bitcoin, an experience that coupled the bureaucratic tedium of legacy consumer financial services with the cold mechanization of notoriously customer-hostile PayPal, but with the exciting twist that I have no idea from moment to moment how much my shiny new Internet money is actually worth.

Silicon Valley has a seemingly endless capacity to mistake social and political problems for technological ones, and Bitcoin is just the latest example of this selective blindness. The underbanked will not be lifted out of poverty by conducting their meager daily business in a cryptocurrency rather than a fiat currency, even if Bitcoin or its ilk manages to reduce marginal transaction costs.

In Bitcoin, the Valley sees another PayPal and the associated fat exit, but ideally without the annoying costs of policing fraud and handling chargebacks this time around. Bankers in New York and London see opportunities for cryptocurrency market-making. In other words: Bitcoin represents more of the same short-sighted hypercapitalism that got us into this mess, minus the accountability.

Can We Feed Our World Without Monsanto?

Cultivating The Peas

Every minute of every day, our global family welcomes 255 babies into the world. That’s 134 million new mouths to feed every year, for a total population increase of 2.2 billion in the next thirty years.

Hugh Grant, the CEO of agricultural giant Monsanto, often cites the world’s booming population as the core reason global citizens should embrace the genetic engineering of plants to make them resistant to herbicides, pesticides or bestow them with other traits that theoretically permit higher crop yields. Grant, and many others, seem quite certain that without genetic intervention, the world population is destined to starve.

Upon closer inspection however, this ‘get-on-board-or-perish’ position is not as solid as it might seem. The Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us that there exist traditional ways to boost crop yield, and further, that more productive crops are only a small part of the solution to the world’s food woes. Even more key are things such as lack of income to buy food, trade policies that disadvantage farmers in the developing world and lack of inputs such as fertilizer or water.

Indeed, on the ground, there is evidence that Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops are not guaranteed salvation. When they fail to produce the yields promised by the company’s advertising, and with farmers not permitted to save seeds due to the company’s patent, entire communities in places like India can be pushed to the brink of starvation.

“Some seem quite certain that without genetic intervention, the world population is destined to starve.”

Feeding the world’s hungry aside, genetically modified products have been the target of various concerns. The World Health Organization summarises those regarding biodiversity, as follows:

“Current investigations focus on: the potentially detrimental effect on beneficial insects or a faster induction of resistant insects; the potential generation of new plant pathogens; the potential detrimental consequences for plant biodiversity and wildlife, and a decreased use of the important practice of crop rotation in certain local situations; and the movement of herbicide resistance genes to other plants.”

[On that last point, it has recently come to light that there are weeds and pests that have grown resistant to Monsanto’s continued attempts to subdue them. ]

Human health questions too still remain. Studies have blamed damage to the kidneys, livers and reproductive systems of lab mice on diets containing Monsanto’s GM corn.

For all these reasons and more, activists often cry foul against Monsanto, using words such as ‘evil’, and ‘deceptive’. To this proponents of Monsanto respond that, just like any other company, it exists to make money for its shareholders.

Both positions seem rhetorical, and the final decision ultimately falls to the individual, but is there enough information available to the average shopper? Is it even possible to avoid Monsanto? Monsanto’s products are so ubiquitous here in the United States that average Americans support the company with almost every bite of food they consume, without ever being aware that they are doing so.

This is due to the fact that Monsanto’s genetically modified crops are unbranded components in processed food (high fructose corn syrup made from genetically modified corn and soy lecithin from genetically modified soy, to name just two). Manufacturers from General Mills to Nestle utilize Monsanto’s wares, but you’d never know it by reading their labels.

GM food: accept or reject?

 

Considering that it is so difficult to steer clear of Monsanto’s products, should we just accept genetically engineered food as our global solution and get on with feeding the hungry? The facts are still being collected, debated and weighed (as evidenced by this week’s Supreme Court ruling.)

 

In his book How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than you Can Imagine author John Jeavons describes what he calls ‘mini-farming’, an organic farming method which yields an average of 2 to 6 times the output of standard American agriculture. Every person on the planet, says Jeavons, can feed themselves with just 100 square feet of well-managed land.

 

“Every person on the planet can feed themselves with just 100 square feet of well-managed land.”

 

A little known study by botanist Sue Edwards found that organic gardening test sites in Ethiopia produced significantly higher yields from every single crop tested.

 

In 2008 the UN Conference of Trade and Development supported organics, saying that ‘organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and… is more likely to be sustainable in the long term’.

 

At the same time that more and more data is pointing toward organics and away from the giant mono-crop farming that embraces genetically modified foods, unflattering data on American-style agriculture continues to mount.

 

In 2007, the US used five times more fertilizer than it did in 1960, with crop yields lagging far behind, at an estimated fifty percent increase. Polluting pesticide use is at an all time high while more crops are lost to pests now than six decades ago. More and more scientists are getting behind the argument that industrial agriculture is simply unsustainable.

 

While the question of how to feed the world’s hungry still looms, it’s clear that the answer is not rhetorical — it’s scientific. As a global community it is time to look honestly at the facts about how our food is grown.

 

As individuals, if we don’t like the way big business is running things, we have the power to create change with every meal we eat. Each year we have 134 million new reasons to do so.

 

← • →

 

For more information on the Month Without Monsanto project visit http://www.monthwithoutmonsanto.com, or join the conversation on the Facebook page.

Can We Feed Our World Without Monsanto? by April Davila – 2010

Image: Cultivating The Peas – National (USA) award winning rural country farm landscape oil paintings by  Walt Curlee

Cordoba, Argentina: Under fire in the mountains with strong winds and heat.

The flames consumed everything in its path in the mountains of Cordoba.
So last night the fire looked in Alta Gracia (Photo: @ GabySaavedraOk)
So last night the fire looked in Alta Gracia (Photo: @ GabySaavedraOk)

Following an improvement in wind conditions, the work resumed firefighting planes to fight fires in the Sierras de Córdoba. Heat, drought and strong wind the day yesterday turned into hell to different parts of the province. Consequently still active foci in Santa Rosa, Yacanto, El Durazno, San Miguel, Villa City of America, Alta Gracia, La Paisanita, Bialet Massé, Santa Maria de Punilla, La Granja, Ascochinga and Cosquín, among others. While that was contained two fire fronts, one in the center of Alta Gracia and another in La Falda. The worst situation is recorded in Calamuchita Valley, between Villa Alpina and Yacanto, where the flames consume everything in its path since last weekend. More than 240 firefighters battled the flames on Monday, and from the Province indicated that the wind the air tankers and helicopters were inoperable since noon yesterday. Another of the locations in a critical situation Bialet Massé, where authorities also considering whether to evacuate residents. The remaining scale fires are recorded: The Farm, Ascochinga, Santa Catalina, La Paz, Cañada del Rio Pinto, Villa City of America, Alta Gracia and Alpa Corral. In Rio Cuarto, my city, is obstructed by the ash north wind brings. The red sky, a sunset pale and rare dominated the city yesterday. In the air you breathe, dry, smoke-flavored. In Rio Cuarto, my city, is obscured by the ash north wind brings. The red sky, a sunset pale and rare dominated the city yesterday. In the air you breathe, dry, smoke-flavored. There is only one hope: the rains. According to meteorological experts will arrive on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday. My province is under fire, and we face a 48 hours of hell with more heat and strong winds. I can not close this note without mentioning the volunteer firefighters of my province. His work, courage and effort is admirable.

The flames consumed everything in its path in the mountains of Cordoba.
The flames consumed everything in its path in the mountains of Cordoba.
Ash carried by the winds in the courtyards of Rio Cuarto
Ash carried by the winds in the courtyards of Rio Cuarto
The ash-filled sky at sunset in Rio Cuarto
The ash-filled sky at sunset in Rio Cuarto

Update
Map of the fires